House Speaker Gets 'Lucky' on Speeding Ticket - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: The Ticket Fix

House Speaker Gets 'Lucky' on Speeding Ticket

(Story created: 2/27/06)

House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh called a full-blown news conference to answer our questions about how he got out of a speeding ticket. Was it another case of the ticket fix -- or something much more innocent?

Naifeh insists that he has done nothing wrong -- and there's no evidence that he did.

But our exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation raises questions about whether Nashville's courts are providing equal justice under the law.

***

For two years, Nashville police have been cracking down on speeding.

It's a crackdown that has snared thousands -- the poor and the powerful.

But did House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh gets out of a speeding ticket because he's politically connected or, as the judge claims, because he "was lucky?"

"Were you speeding?" NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams asks Naifeh.

"I was speeding," the House speaker acknowledges.

Three days after Christmas, Naifeh was ticketed by a Metro Nashville police officer, who had clocked him on I-40 doing 86 in a 70 miles-per-hour zone.

"I went to court to plead guilty that I was speeding," Naifeh says. "I intended to pay a fine and go to drivers' school."

General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland admits, "Yes, I knew he was going to be on the docket."

But Moreland says he just happened to be in a good mood on February 16th at 12:30 p.m. -- and decided to give everybody on his 12:30 schedule a break.

That included the man who has a big say about judges' salaries, which are set by the legislature.

"I had just gotten word that I would be unopposed in this next term," Moreland tells Phil Williams. "And I felt like I caught a break, and I was giving individuals on that docket a break."

It was, Moreland says, his own personal, political celebration -- in which he dismissed tickets written by the city's police officers just for that one hour.

"Were you feeling lucky at 11:30?" Williams asks.

"Not as lucky," the judge answers, "because qualifying deadline was at noon."

"10:30?"

"Same answer."

"9:30?"

"Same answer."

"8:30?"

"Same answer."

"So the docket where the House speaker happened to be was the one you were feeling lucky for?"

"Purely coincidental."

For some, it may be a reminder of the speeding ticket that a state trooper wrote to deputy governor Dave Cooley two years ago.

In that case, when the judge dismissed just Cooley's ticket, it created a political firestorm.

"I was going to do it whether he was in the court room or not," Moreland says.

The lifelong Democrat insists Naifeh was just another driver in traffic court.

"Had you talked to him beforehand?" Williams asks.

"Had I talked to him beforehand? No."

The speaker, however, has a little different memory.

"I saw him before, just to say hello in the hallway," Naifeh says.

"Did you exchange pleasantries?" Williams asks Moreland.

"Didn't say a word to him," the judge answers.

Williams asks Naifeh, "So if he says he never spoke to you beforehand, that's not true?"

"No. I'm not going to say what the judge said."

As to what Naifeh's case says about how judges enforce Nashville's traffic laws, Williams asks Moreland:

"What would you tell that poor sucker who didn't know that you were going to feel lucky at 12:30 - and went ahead and paid for his speeding ticket?"

"I guess," the judge answers, "they weren't as lucky as the ones who showed up that day."

Williams asks Naifeh, "Do you think that's a proper use of judicial authority?"

"I'm not the one to decide that," the speaker says.

Moreland compares the Naifeh situation to when some judges let speeders go around Christmas time. 

He says that when he learned that he would have a lock on his job for another eight years, it was like Christmas for him.

"It sounds like what you're saying is, instead of the justice system, it's the lottery system," Williams tells Moreland.

"That day, yes, it probably was," the judge responds.

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